“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass” ~ Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an English American author and journalist whose career spanned more than four decades. Hitchens, often referred to colloquially as “Hitch” was a columnist and literary critic for New Statesman, The Atlantic, The Nation, The Daily Mirror, The Times Literary Supplement, Free Inquiry, and Vanity Fair. He was an author of twelve books and five collections of essays. As a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits, he was a prominent public intellectual, and his confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure.
Hitchens was known for his admiration of George Orwell, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, as well as for his excoriating critiques of various public figures including Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and Diana, Princess of Wales. Although he supported the Falklands War, his key split from the established political left began in 1989 after what he called the “tepid reaction” of the Western left to the Rushdie Affair. The September 11 attacks strengthened his internationalist embrace of aninterventionist foreign policy, and his vociferous criticism of what he called “fascism with an Islamic face.” His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War caused some to label him a neoconservative, although Hitchens insisted he was not “a conservative of any kind”, and his friend Ian McEwan describes him as representing the anti-totalitarian left.
A noted critic of religion and a self described antitheist, he said that a person “could be an atheist and wish that belief in god were correct”, but that “an antitheist, a term I’m trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there’s no evidence for such an assertion.” According to Hitchens, the concept of a god or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization. His 2007 book, God Is Not Great, sold over 500,000 copies.
On 15 December 2011, Hitchens died from pneumonia, a complication of his cancer, in the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. His death prompted tributes and eulogies from a range of public figures, including Tony Blair, Richard Dawkins, Martin Amis, James Fenton, Nick Clegg and Stephen Fry.
Early life and education
His mother, Yvonne Jean (née Hickman), and father, Eric Ernest Hitchens (1909–1987), met in Scotland while both were serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. Yvonne was at the time a “Wren” (a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service), and Eric a “purse-lipped and silent” commander, whose ship HMS Jamaica helped sink Nazi Germany’s battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape. His father’s naval career required the family to move a number of times from base to base throughout Britain and its dependencies, including in Malta, where Christopher’s brother Peter was born in Sliema in 1951.
Hitchens’s mother having argued that “if there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it,” he was sent off to Mount House School inTavistock in Devon at the age of eight, followed by the independent Leys School in Cambridge, and then at Balliol College in Oxford, where he was tutored by Steven Lukesand read philosophy, politics, and economics. Hitchens was “bowled over” in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, R. H. Tawney’s critique on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the works of George Orwell. In 1968, he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge.
Hitchens has written of his homosexual experiences when in boarding school in his memoir, Hitch-22. These experiences continued in his college years, when he allegedly had relationships with two men who eventually became a part of the Thatcher government.
In the 1960s, Hitchens joined the political left, drawn by his anger over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism, and “oligarchy”, including that of “the unaccountable corporation”. He would express affinity with the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. However, he deplored the rife recreational drug use of the time, which he describes as hedonistic.
He joined the Labour Party in 1965, but along with the majority of the Labour students’ organization was expelled in 1967, because of what Hitchens called “Prime MinisterHarold Wilson’s contemptible support for the war in Vietnam”. Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, who translated the writings of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism. Shortly after he joined “a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect”.
Journalistic Career (1970–1981)
Hitchens began working as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism, published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today’s British Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist, but differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to defend communist states as “workers’ states”. Their slogan was “Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism”.
Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree. In 1971 he went to work at the Times Higher Education Supplement where he served as a social science correspondent. Hitchens admitted that he hated the position, and was later fired; he recalled, “I sometimes think if I’d been any good at that job, I might still be doing it.” He then went on to become a researcher for ITV’s Weekend World. In 1973 he went on to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with the authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, among others. At the New Statesman he acquired a reputation as a fierce left-winger, aggressively attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, and the Roman Catholic Church.
In November 1973, Hitchens’ mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with her lover, a former clergyman named Timothy Bryan. They overdosed on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms, and Bryan slashed his wrists in the bathtub. Hitchens flew alone to Athens to recover his mother’s body. Hitchens said he thought his mother was pressured into suicide by fear that her husband would learn of her infidelity, as their marriage had been strained and unhappy. Both her children were then independent adults. While in Greece, Hitchens reported on the constitutional crisis of the military junta. It became his first leading article for the New Statesman.
In 1977, unhappy at the New Statesman, Hitchens defected to the Daily Express where he became a foreign correspondent. He returned to the New Statesman in 1979 where he became foreign editor.
American career (1981–2011)
Hitchens went to the United States in 1981, as part of an editor exchange program between The New Statesman and the The Nation. After joining The Nation, he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America. He became a contributing editor of Vanity Fair in 1992, writing ten columns a year. In 2002 Asteroid 57901 Hitchens was named after him. He left The Nation in 2002 after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors over the Iraq War. There is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe’s character Peter Fallow in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, but others—including Hitchens (or he indicated as such while alive)—believe it to be Spy Magazine‘s “Ironman Nightlife Decathlete” Anthony Haden-Guest. In 1987, his father died from cancer of the esophagus. He became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008.
Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Sophia. His son, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, born in 1984, has worked as a policy researcher in London. Hitchens continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. His work took him to over 60 countries. In 1991 he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
In 1999, as harsh critics of Clinton, Hitchens and Carol Blue submitted an affidavit to the trial managers of the Republican Party in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Therein they swore that their then-friend, Sidney Blumenthal, had described Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. This allegation contradicted Blumenthal’s own sworn deposition in the trial, and it resulted in a hostile exchange of opinion in the public sphere between Hitchens and Blumenthal. Following the publication of Blumenthal’s The Clinton Wars,Hitchens wrote several pieces in which he accused Blumenthal of manipulating the facts. The incident ended their friendship and sparked a “personal crisis” for Hitchens who was stridently criticised by friends for a cynical and ultimately politically futile act.
Before Hitchens’ political shift, the American author and polemicist Gore Vidal was apt to speak of Hitchens as his “Dauphin” or “heir”. In 2010, Hitchens attacked Vidal in a Vanity Fair piece headlined “Vidal Loco,” calling him a “crackpot” for his adoption of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Also, on the back of his book Hitch-22, among the praise from notable figures, Vidal’s endorsement of Hitchens as his successor is crossed out in red and a annotated “NO, C.H.” His strong advocacy of the war in Iraq had gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. An online poll ranked the 100 intellectuals, but the magazines noted that the rankings of Hitchens (5), Noam Chomsky (1), and Abdolkarim Soroush (15) were partly due to supporters publicising the vote.
In 2007 Hitchens’ work for Vanity Fair won him the National Magazine Award in the category “Columns and Commentary”. He was a finalist once more in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. He won the National Magazine Award for Columns about Cancer in 2011. Hitchens also served on the Advisory Board of Secular Coalition for America and offered advice to Coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life.
Hitchens wrote a monthly essay on books in The Atlantic and contributed occasionally to other literary journals. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, is a collection of such works, and Love, Poverty and War contains a section devoted to literary essays. In Why Orwell Matters, he defends Orwell’s writings against modern critics as relevant today and progressive for his time. In the 2008 book Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left, many literary critiques are included of essays and other books of writers, such as David Horowitz and Edward Said.
During a three-hour interview by Book TV, he named authors who have had influence on his views, including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse and Conor Cruise O’Brien.
The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Hitchens as a “gadfly with gusto”. In 2009, Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the “25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media”. However, the same article noted that he would “likely be aghast to find himself on this list”, since it reduces his self-styled radicalism to mere liberalism. Hitchens’ political perspective can be found in his wide ranging writings which include many of the political dialogues he published.
Hitchens became a socialist “largely [as] the outcome of a study of history, taking sides … in the battles over industrialism and war and empire.” In 2001, he told Rhys Southan of Reason magazine that he could no longer say “I am a socialist.” Socialists, he claimed, had ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system. Capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as “innovative and internationalist”, but added, “I don’t think that the contradictions, as we used to say, of the system, are by any means all resolved.” He stated that he had a renewed interest in the freedom of the individual from the state, but that he still considered libertarianism “ahistorical” both on the world stage and in the work of creating a stable and functional society, adding that libertarians are “more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation” whereas “the present state of affairs … combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of the insurance companies.”
In 2006, in a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis, Hitchens commented on his political philosophy by stating, “I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist”. In a June 2010 interview with The New York Times, he stated that “I still think like a Marxist in many ways. I think the materialist conception of history is valid. I consider myself a very conservative Marxist”. In 2009, in an article for The Atlantic entitled “The Revenge of Karl Marx”, Hitchens frames the late-2000s recession in terms of Marx’s economic analysis and notes how much Marx admired the capitalist system of which he was calling for the end, but says that Marx ultimately failed to grasp how revolutionary capitalist innovation was. Hitchens was an admirer of Che Guevara, commenting that “[Che’s] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time, he was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do—fought and died for his beliefs.”However, in an essay written in 1997, he distanced himself from Che, and referred to the mythos surrounding him as a “cult”.
He continued to regard both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky as great men, and the October Revolution as a necessary event in the modernization of Russia. In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin’s creation of “secular Russia” and his discrediting of the Russian Orthodox Church, describing it as “an absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition”.
In the years after the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie, Hitchens became increasingly critical of what he called “excuse making” on the left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy ideas of some on the Republican-right that promoted pro-liberalism intervention, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz. Around this time, he befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi. In 2004, Hitchens stated that neoconservative support for US intervention in Iraq convinced him that he was “on the same side as the neo-conservatives” when it came to contemporary foreign policy issues. Hitchens had also been known to refer to his association with “temporary neocon allies”.
Following the September 11 attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and the proper response to it. In October 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation. Chomsky responded and Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky to which Chomsky again responded. Approximately a year after the September 11 attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation, claiming that its editors, readers and contributors considered John Ashcrofta bigger threat than Osama bin Laden, and that they were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues.
Christopher Hitchens argued the case for the Iraq War in a 2003 collection of essays entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, and he held numerous public debates on the topic with George Galloway and Scott Ritter
Criticism of George W. Bush
Prior to September 11, 2001, and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Hitchens was highly critical of Bush’s “non-interventionist” foreign policy. He also criticized Bush’s support of intelligent design and capital punishment.
Although Hitchens defended Bush’s post-September 11 foreign policy, he criticized the actions of U.S. troops in Abu Ghraib and Haditha, and the U.S. government’s use of waterboarding, which he unhesitatingly deemed as torture after he was invited by Vanity Fair to voluntarily undergo it. In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU
Hitchens would elaborate on his political views and ideological shift in a discussion with Eric Alterman on Bloggingheads.tv. In this discussion Hitchens revealed himself to be a supporter of Ralph Nader in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, who was disenchanted with the candidacy of both George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the 2004 U.S. presidential election and wrote that he was “slightly” for Bush; shortly afterwards, Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates and mistakenly printed Hitchens’ vote as pro-John Kerry. Hitchens shifted his opinion to “neutral”, saying: “It’s absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is impending with Bush, and it’s unwise and indecent for Republicans to equate Kerry with capitulation. There’s no one to whom he can surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy will decide things in the end”.
In the 2008 presidential election, Hitchens in an article for Slate stated, “I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that ‘issue’ I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity.” He was critical of both main party candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain. Hitchens went on to support Obama, calling McCain “senile”, and his choice of running mate Sarah Palin “absurd”, calling Palin a “pathological liar” and a “national disgrace”.
Israel – Palestine
Hitchens had said of himself, “I am an Anti-Zionist. I’m one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians.”
A review of his autobiography Hitch-22 in the Jewish Daily Forward refers to Hitchens as “a prominent anti-Zionist” and says that he views Zionism “as an injustice against the Palestinians”. Others have commented on his anti-Zionism as well suggesting that his memoir was “marred by the occasional eruption of [his] anti-Zionism”. TheJewish Daily Forward quoted him saying of Israel’s prospects for the future, “I have never been able to banish the queasy inner suspicion that Israel just did not look, or feel, either permanent or sustainable.”
In Slate, Hitchens pondered the notion that, instead of curing antisemitism through the creation of a Jewish state, “Zionism has only replaced and repositioned” it, saying: “there are three groups of 6 million Jews. The first 6 million live in what the Zionist movement used to call Palestine. The second 6 million live in the United States. The third 6 million are distributed mainly among Russia, France, Britain, and Argentina. Only the first group lives daily in range of missiles that can be (and are) launched by people who hate Jews.” Hitchens argued that instead of supporting Zionism, Jews should help “secularize and reform their own societies”, believing that unless one is religious, “what the hell are you doing in the greater Jerusalem area in the first place?” Indeed, Hitchens goes so far as to claim that the only justification for Zionism given by Jews is a religious one.
During a town hall function in Pennsylvania with Martin Amis, Hitchens stated that “one must not insult or degrade or humiliate people” and that he “would be opposed to this maltreatment of the Palestinians if it took place on a remote island with no geopolitical implications”. Hitchens described Zionism as “an ethno-nationalist quasi-religious ideology” and stated his desire that if possible, he would “re-wind the tape [to] stop Hertzl from telling the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land”.
Hitch lost the battle to cancer in December 2011
He continued to say that Zionism “nonetheless has founded a sort of democratic state which isn’t any worse in its practice than many others with equally dubious origins.” He stated that settlement in order to achieve security for Israel is “doomed to fail in the worst possible way”, and the cessation of this “appallingly racist and messianic delusion” would “confront the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews”. However, Hitchens contended that the “solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists” and wondered “What did they imagine would be the response of the followers of the Prophet [Muhammad]?” Hitchens bemoaned the transference into religious terrorism of Arab secularism as a means of democratization: “the most depressing and wretched spectacle of the past decade, for all those who care about democracy and secularism, has been the degeneration of Palestinian Arab nationalism into the theocratic and thanatocratic hell of Hamas and Islamic Jihad”. He maintained that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a “trivial squabble” that has become “so dangerous to all of us” because of “the faith-based element.”
Hitchens collaborated on this issue with prominent Palestinian advocate Edward Said, in 1988 publishing Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question.
Hitchens actively supported drug policy reform and called for the abolition of the “War on Drugs” which he described as an “authoritarian war” during a debate with William F. Buckley. He supported the legalization of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, citing it as a cure for glaucoma and as treatment for numerous side-effects induced by chemotherapy, including severe nausea, describing the prohibition of the drug as “sadistic”.
Other issues Hitchens wrote on the subjects of included his support for the reunification of Ireland, abolition of the British monarchy, and his condemnation of the war crimes of Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman in Yugoslavia, and the Bosnian War.
Critiques of specific individuals
Hitchens was known for his scathing critiques of public figures. Three figures—Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Mother Teresa—were the targets of three separate full length texts, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Hitchens also wrote book-length biographical essays about Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), George Orwell (Why Orwell Matters), andThomas Paine (Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man”: A Biography).
However, the majority of Hitchens’s critiques took the form of short opinion pieces, some of the more notable being his critiques of: Jerry Falwell, George Galloway, Mel Gibson, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, Michael Moore, Daniel Pipes, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, and Cindy Sheehan. When comedian Bob Hope died in 2003, Hitchens wrote an attack piece on him, calling Hope “a fool and nearly a clown, but he was never even remotely a comedian” and “Quick, then—what is your favorite Bob Hope gag? It wouldn’t take you long if I challenged you on Milton Berle, or Woody Allen, or John Cleese, or even Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl. By this time tomorrow, I bet you haven’t come up with a real joke for which Hope could take credit.” Critics argued that Hitchens focused solely on Hope’s declining years and ignored his heyday in the 1940s.
Views on religion
Hitchens often spoke out against the Abrahamic religions, or what he called “the three great monotheisms” (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). When asked by readers of The Independent (London) what he considered to be the “axis of evil,” Hitchens replied “Christianity, Judaism, Islam – the three leading monotheisms.” In his book, god Is Not Great, Hitchens expanded his criticism to include all religions, including those rarely criticized by Western secularists such as Hinduism and neo-paganism. His book had mixed reactions, from praise in The New York Times for his “logical flourishes and conundrums” to accusations of “intellectual and moral shabbiness” in the Financial Times. God Is Not Great was nominated for a National Book Award on 10 October 2007.
Hitchens contended that organized religion is “the main source of hatred in the world”, “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children”, and that accordingly it “ought to have a great deal on its conscience”. In God Is Not Great, Hitchens contends that:
“Above all, we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman [referencing Alexander Pope]. This Enlightenment will not need to depend, like its predecessors, on the heroic breakthroughs of a few gifted and exceptionally courageous people. It is within the compass of the average person. The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by electronic means, will revolutionize our concepts of research and development. Very importantly, the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse. And all this and more is, for the first time in our history, within the reach if not the grasp of everyone”.
His book rendered him one of the major advocates of the “New Atheism” movement, and he also was made an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. Hitchens said he would accept an invitation from any religious leader who wished to debate with him. He also served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group for atheists and humanists in Washington, DC. In 2007, Hitchens began a series of written debates on the question “Is Christianity Good for the World?” with Christian theologian and pastor, Douglas Wilson, published in Christianity Today magazine. This exchange eventually became a book by the same title in 2008. During their book tour to promote the book, film producer Darren Doane sent a film crew to accompany them. Doane produced the film Collision: “Is Christianity GOOD for the World?” which was released on 27 October 2009.
On 26 November 2010 Hitchens appeared in Toronto, Canada at the Munk Debates, where he debated religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a convert to Roman Catholicism. Blair argued religion is a force for good, while Hitchens was against it. Preliminary results on the Munk website said 56 per cent of the votes backed the proposition (Hitchens’ position) before hearing the debate, with 22 per cent against (Blair’s position), and 21 per cent undecided, with the undecided voters leaning toward Hitchens, giving him a 68 per cent to 32 per cent victory over Blair, after the debate.
In February 2006, Hitchens helped organize a pro-Denmark rally outside the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.
Hitchens was accused by William A. Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberties of being particularly anti-Catholic. Hitchens responded “when religion is attacked in this country […] the Catholic Church comes in for a little more than its fair share”. Hitchens had also been accused of anti-Catholic bigotry by others, including Brent Bozell, Tom Piatak in The American Conservative, and UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge. In an interview with Radar in 2007, Hitchens said that if the Christian right’s agenda were implemented in the United States “It wouldn’t last very long and would, I hope, lead to civil war, which they will lose, but for which it would be a great pleasure to take part.” When Joe Scarborough on 12 March 2004 asked Hitchens whether he was “consumed with hatred for conservative Catholics”, Hitchens responded that he was not and that he just thinks that “all religious belief is sinister and infantile”. Piatak claimed that “A straightforward description of all Hitchens’s anti-Catholic outbursts would fill every page in this magazine”, noting particularly Hitchens’ assertion that U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts should not be confirmed because of his faith.
Hitchens was raised nominally Christian, and went to Christian boarding schools but from an early age declined to participate in communal prayers. Later in life, Hitchens discovered that he was of Jewish descent on his mother’s side. According to Hitchens, when his brother Peter took his fiancée to meet their maternal grandmother, who was then in her 90s, she said of his fiancée, “She’s Jewish, isn’t she?” and then announced: “Well, I’ve got something to tell you. So are you.” Hitchens found out that his maternal grandmother, Dorothy née Levin, was Jewish (Dorothy’s father and maternal grandfather had both been born Jewish, and Dorothy’s maternal grandmother – Hitchens’ matrilineal great-great-grandmother – was a convert to Judaism). Hitchens’ maternal grandfather converted to Judaism before marrying Dorothy Levin. Hitchens’ Jewish-born ancestors were immigrants from Eastern Europe (including Poland). In an article in the The Guardian on 14 April 2002, Hitchens stated that he could be considered Jewish because Jewish descent is traditionally traced matrilineally. In a 2010 interview at New York Public Library, Hitchens stated that he was against circumcision, a Jewish tradition, and that he believed “if anyone wants to saw off bits of their genitalia they should do it when they’re grown up and have made the decision for themselves”.
In February 2010, he was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Honorary Board of distinguished achievers.
Final illness and death
In June 2010, Hitchens postponed his book tour for Hitch-22 to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer. He announced that he was undergoing treatment in a Vanity Fair piece entitled “Topic of Cancer”. Hitchens said that he recognised the long-term prognosis was far from positive, and that he would be a “very lucky person to live another five years”. In November 2010, Hitchens canceled a scheduled appearance in New York, where he was to debate religion writers David Hazony and Stephen Prothero on the subject of the Ten Commandments. Earlier that year, he published a piece in Vanity Fair on the subject, and was working on a book about the Ten Commandments as well.
During his illness, Hitchens was under the care of Francis Collins and was the subject of Collins’ new cancer treatment which maps out the human genome and selectively targets damaged DNA.
In April 2011, Hitchens was forced to cancel an appearance at the American Atheist Convention, and instead sent a letter that stated, “Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death.” He closed with “And don’t keep the faith.” The letter also dismissed the notion of a possible deathbed conversion, in which he claimed that “redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before.” In June 2011, he spoke to a University of Waterloo audience via a home video link.
In October 2011, Hitchens made a public appearance at the Texas Freethought Convention in Houston, TX. Atheist Alliance of America was also a participant in the joint convention.
In November 2011, George Eaton wrote in the New Statesman:
The tragedy of Hitchens’ illness is that it came at a time when he enjoyed a larger audience than ever. Of his tight circle of friends – Amis, Fenton, McEwan, Rushdie – Hitchens was the last to gain international renown, yet he is now read more widely than any of them.” Eaton revealed that Hitchens would like to be remembered as a man who fought totalitarianism in all its forms although many remember him as a “lefty who turned right”, and his support of the Iraq War and not his support of the War in Bosnia on the side of the Moslems.
Eaton concluded, “The great polemicist is certain to be remembered, but, as he is increasingly aware, perhaps not as he would like.”
Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
In accordance with his wishes, his body was donated to medical research.
Hitchens wrote a book-length work about his last illness, based on his Vanity Fair columns. The publisher said “Mortality” will be published in September 2012.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, “Christopher Hitchens was a complete one-off, an amazing mixture of writer, journalist, polemicist, and unique character. He was fearless in the pursuit of truth and any cause in which he believed. And there was no belief he held that he did not advocate with passion, commitment, and brilliance. He was an extraordinary, compelling and colourful human being whom it was a privilege to know.”
Richard Dawkins, British evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford and a friend of Hitchens, said, “I think he was one of the greatest orators of all time. He was a polymath, a wit, immensely knowledgeable, and a valiant fighter against all tyrants including imaginary supernatural ones.”
Sam Harris, American writer and neuroscientist, wrote, “I have been privileged to witness the gratitude that so many people feel for Hitch’s life and work—for, wherever I speak, I meet his fans. On my last book tour, those who attended my lectures could not contain their delight at the mere mention of his name—and many of them came up to get their books signed primarily to request that I pass along their best wishes to him. It was wonderful to see how much Hitch was loved and admired—and to be able to share this with him before the end. I will miss you, brother.”
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and former head of the Human Genome Project who helped treat Hitchens’ illness, wrote, “I will miss Christopher. I will miss the brilliant turn of phrase, the good-natured banter, the wry sideways smile when he was about to make a remark that would make me laugh out loud. No doubt he now knows the answer to the question of whether there is more to the spirit than just atoms and molecules. I hope he was surprised by the answer. I hope to hear him tell about it someday. He will tell it really well.”
The American Catholic columnist Ross Douthat, noting the affection felt by intellectually minded Christians for Hitchens, observed that, “in the world of journalism, among his peers and competitors and sparring partners, it was nearly impossible to find a religious person who didn’t have a soft spot for a man who famously accused faith of poisoning absolutely everything.”
British columnist and author Peter Hitchens, who had a tumultuous relationship with his older brother Christopher, wrote that he and Christopher “got on surprisingly well in the past few months, better than for about 50 years as it happens,” and praised his brother as “courageous.”
Irish-American political journalist Alexander Cockburn, founder of the left-wing political magazine CounterPunch wrote an obituary critical of Hitchens, criticizing his support for the Iraq War, criticisms of Mother Teresa, and criticisms of their mutual friend Edward Said and concluded, “I found the Hitchens cult of recent years entirely mystifying. He endured his final ordeal with pluck, sustained indomitably by his wife Carol.”
Tributes followed from the philosopher Daniel Dennett, the physicist Lawrence Krauss, the actor Stephen Fry, the writer Ian McEwan, the philosopher A.C. Grayling; and Vanity Fair, in which he was remembered as an “incomparable critic and masterful rhetorician”.
Info from WIKIPEDIA